Rick Schneider, who graduated from Nasson College in 1971 and is an active member of the Nasson Alumni Association, is looking for photos, stories and memorabilia about Sanford’s old theaters – including this one, the Gowen Theater, in Springvale. It was demolished during urban renewal in the 1970s.

Rick Schneider, who graduated from Nasson College in 1971 and is an active member of the Nasson Alumni Association, is looking for photos, stories and memorabilia about Sanford’s old theaters – including this one, the Gowen Theater, in Springvale. It was demolished during urban renewal in the 1970s.

SPRINGVALE — When Rick Schneider was a student at Nasson College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he always wanted to have a look inside the long-shuttered Gowen Theater. He never got that opportunity, and the old movie house was demolished during urban renewal not long afterward.

SUBMITTED PHOTOS/Courtesy of Rick Schneider

SUBMITTED PHOTOS/Courtesy of Rick Schneider

Schneider, who plans to be in the area next week in time for the annual Nasson College Alumni Homecoming, is writing a book about old theaters. He’s looking to talk to folks who may have been inside the Gowen Theater or other Sanford and Springvale theaters, or who have photos and other memorabilia about them.

He wants to know more about the Gowan Theater, Theater Comique, the Leavitt Theater – later called the Capitol Theater, built in 1910 on Main Street in Sanford – and others.

“Before there was television, before radio, and before movies, there was only one form of public entertainment, and that was live theater,” said Schneider in a news release. “It might have been stock theater companies, touring shows, vaudeville, opera, or even burlesque, but it was performed live, in front of an audience. The shows were performed in places called opera houses or theaters, or some other variation, but they all consisted of a place of public assembly.”

Schneider

Schneider

In Springvale, what is now the historical society museum was built originally as Sanford Town Hall. It didn’t function in that capacity for long, and later served as a venue for plays and musical events.

According to local historian Harland Eastman, industrialist Thomas Goodall bought yet another old town hall, located across the street from today’s City Hall, raised it and put in a new first floor.

The building became known as the opera house, where plays and musicals were performed. The opera house closed in the late 1800s, and was torn down in the early 1900s, said Eastman.

According to Schneider, in the 1880s there were an estimated 250 traveling shows playing in some 5,000 theaters in 3,500 cities and towns across the country. In the early 1900s, most of them turned to motion picture projection, and eventually most of them were demolished.

A 1971 graduate of Nasson College, Schneider, an attorney and recently retired administrative judge, had a 10-year theater career in performing arts management before he went to law school. These days, he’s involved in a local theater group in Herndon, Virginia, where he lives.

During his visit for the long-defunct college’s homecoming, Schneider will meet with Eastman and spend time at the two libraries. But he also wants to hear from folks who remember the theaters or who have artifacts or any photos – particularly interior photos.

“Anything that adds to the story,” he said.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Schneider said he hopes to have the book published by late 2017. He’s focusing on theaters in Sanford and Springvale and possibly another community, and may also include others across the country, he said.

Schneider is the author of three other books – two on theater management published in the 1990s, and “College for Sale: the Fall and Rise of a Closed College Campus,” about his alma mater, Nasson College, in 2012.

Schneider plans to be in town the latter part of the coming week. Those with information are asked to contact him at [email protected] or by calling (703) 772-7033 to set up a time and place to meet.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]


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